Sunday, May 20, 2012

Zumbro 100 race report: Just. Finish.

I collapsed at the finish, all of the tension of the last 100.2 miles released. I had tried to sit but failed. I went into child’s pose, and then rolled over to my side and back.

Emotional crescendos unfold at the end of 100 mile races.
I cried as I laid there on my back. A couple of tears rolled from each eye. I felt like I had disappointed myself and my wife for failing to meet my time goals and for wasting our time in pursuit of the same. Her pep talk to me at mile 97.5 got me thinking about the race and reflecting on it, and at the time I wasn’t too pleased with my performance. Disappointment describes it best, and crossing the finish line under the new time goal we had collectively set permitted that release.

But there’s a lot more before we get to that.


Many of us had gathered Thursday evening as a collection of tents and RVs dotted the horse camp. Jacci and I milled around, chatting with runners and family and picked up my race packet. Adam Schwartz-Lowe and Bill Pomerenke gave me crap for being up at 9:30 at night and still moving around. Get off your feet, get hydrated, and put your feet up they said. Little did they know that if had gone to bed any earlier, I would have been up at 4 AM stark-raving awake and all the worse from it.

The next morning was uneventful – I awoke far too early, heated water for tea and ate my nutella-and-peanut-butter tortilla. And a banana for good measure, too. Joe Boler had an energy drink and a cigar. I changed into warm-ups – sweats and fleece on top and bottom, with my torso guarded with my Sawtooth 100 finsher’s jacket.

Ready for 100 miles of awesome.
On occasion, Storkamp came over the intercom to address the gathered. “This is god,” he said at about 6:30 AM. “Wake up.” And so on. Soon the milling persons coalesced and Storkamp stood on a picnic table to speak to the amassed.

“Two cannibals and having lunch with a clown,” he says, “And one looks to the other and says ‘Does this clown taste funny to you?’” We try to laugh off what we were about to begin. A short countdown, and we lurched forward with a collective beep of watches.

Ready to run with the other crazies.
When I went into this race, I thought there were a handful of people who could and should be running at 24-hour race or something reasonably similar to what I was capable of: Matt Aro; Joe Boler; and Ed Sandor, and others. The race plan was to run about a 3:30-3:45 first lap and then move to 4-hour or so laps for as long as I could hold on. Run hard through the overnight with the finish line as the third star to the right and straight on ‘til morning.

I had never been on the Zumbro course before, but looking at the elevation profile, I wasn’t spooked. There was a big climb and descent (~400 vertical feet) in four of the five segments (all but the last) and the terrain wasn’t too technical. A conversation with a fellow runner in the weeks before said it was like a Sawtooth-light. Easier than Sawtooth, yes, but in no means easy. The 100 mile distance must be respected. You bend to it, not the other way around.

As expected, each section had its own character. Section One had some single track that gave way to forest roads that went up and over a large hill. The descent led to the aid station. It was the fourth-hardest section. Section Two was characterized by its ups and down, mostly on single track but some on wide, rock-strewn paths. It was also by far the hardest section as it had more climbs and descents than any other section and was also the longest.

Section Three was a two-headed beast. The first head is a lengthy section of single track that gradually (and then steeply) rises to the top of a named rock and then descended down a bush-wacked trail that didn’t exist prior to the race. From there, we were dumped into a sandy creek bed and lead back to the aid station. Because of the gradual rise, bush-wacking off-trail character, and the sand, it was the second-hardest section.

Section Four came in three parts. We immediately ascended to the top of the bluff after leaving aid three, and ran along the bluff until we met a field. From the field, we ran adjacent to it (all still single-track) until the rocky half-mile descent known as Ant Hill. At the bottom of Ant Hill, we ran 1.2 miles of flat road that curved slowly back to Aid 1/4. I would run the entire length of the road on every lap, stopping only once on the last lap. This was the third-hardest section as its only difficult features were Ant Hill and the long road. Even the climb up its bluff was nice.

Finally, Section Five – the easiest by far – was a forest road to some single track that ran along a hillside and dumped onto a service road. From the road, it was no more than a half mile of road to the start/finish camp area.

I packed up with Aro, Boler, Sandor and company on loop one until sometime between miles 10 and 14. We ran in a collective third place, as Mike Polland and one other runner were ahead of us. Matt Aro and I broke away sometime before the long, rocky descent that is Ant Hill and we hit the long road to aid four. Matt dropped off after aid station four when we passed second place and I ran alone.  It was here that I made the first of two mistakes of the race. I kept running, and ran faster than my internal effort-meter should have permitted me to. I ran again faster when I was caught from behind by another, faster runner – the eventual winter, I later found out. He and I entered the horse camp start/finish area together, and he broke off. I was in second place after loop one. I looked down at my watch: 3:06. Shit, too fast, and I knew it. I skipped the aid station and started the second loop, resolute to take the next loop slower. 

And slower I did. I went from running approximately 12 minutes/mile on the first loop to intentionally running 14 minutes/mile on my second and third loops. Life was slowing down and it needed to. Loop three was similar and unremarkable. I came in at 11:08 for 50 miles, which would have been good enough for a 9th place finish in the Midnight 50. (Nevermind their race started immediately post-thunderstorm.)

Loop 3, Aid 1. Approximately 35 miles in and I feel great.
Kurt (right) was waiting his turn to pace my crewing throughout the day.
We could use pacers starting on loop four. Josh, a friend of Kurt’s volunteered to take the first shirt. Josh is a quick fellow and he won the first and only trail marathon ever held at Surf the Murph. He’s taller than I and thin and lanky.

We met up at the start/finish with a fist pound. He and I have met before, sometime in October 2010 when I volunteered to pace Kurt at the Wild Duluth 50K. He and his wife/fiancé/girlfriend were running the half marathon or 50K that day. But we remembered little about each other and had only exchanged a few emails and chatted on the phone once.

We quickly fell into line when we started running. I relayed the past 50 miles, my erroneously quick opening salvo, and my more measured pace in the last two laps. The plan was to run as much as possible in this first foray into the night, time be damned, and try like crazy to get as many miles in before sunrise.

It wasn’t quick dark enough to need headlamps when Josh and I got to running, but it dipped into darkness as we approached aid station 1/4. There I donned my headlamp and wet set out into the darkness.

Josh and I enter aid 1, loop 4. Approx. 8:20 PM Friday.
 Thunderstorms are no fun to run an ultra in.

I went into the weekend knowing that there was a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms on Friday and a 40 percent chance of rain Saturday. I planned for the worst – six shirts, three short sleeves and three long sleeves; four pairs of socks; a wind jacket; my normal ball cap and a fleece cap and gloves. What I didn’t consider taking was a lightweight waterproof/breathable rain jacket for the race. I had mine, but it was with my wife and she wore it. Kurt, who would pace on loop five, wore my heavy rain coat that my wife was going to wear.

While Josh and I tackled the sand on section three, loop four at around 10:30 PM, I looked up at the trail ahead and saw a flash. Lightning? I listened for thunder. Five seconds went by. Then ten, twenty, etc., and I heard nothing. I had to have been, but it was a long way off. I told Josh about it. He saw light, but thought it was my headlamp. A few minutes later, it happened again.

“I saw that one,” Josh said. Still no sound. It was coming at us, but still a ways off.

There was nothing to do but keep running. In my initial planning, I thought about what would happen if a severe thunderstorm hit the course. Would runners take shelter and sit it out? Would Storkamp have everyone halt when they came into an aid station and wait for the storm to pass? There was no discussion of it at anytime.

We asked the volunteers at aid station 2/3. They last heard that a thunderstorm was 45 minutes away from Rochester. Now Rochester is probably 30 miles southwest as Google tells me, but we did not have such technology out there (see section III), so what the volunteers told us was all-but useless. What they didn’t know or tell us would have been useful – where was the storm, which way was it moving, would it hit us, and how powerful it was.

So we left and ascended the bluff south of the aid station. A quarter of the way up, you hit a road and then a sign that says “Scenic Lookout.” Of course we didn’t see it at night, but later would realize it was there.

The rain started as soon as we hit the top off the bluff and on that exposed “Scenic Lookout.” Then came the wind, angling the rain to its will and pea-sized hail followed. I could only think of the several stories of cross-country teams being stuck out in a rural area without shelter during a thunderstorm and returning bruised from the falling ice that struck their exposed skin.

Josh said he had a rain coat, and he gave it to me. He would be fine, wearing two shirts, gloves, a water-resistant wind vest and a stocking hat. All I had was two shirts and my ball cap. The raincoat saved my race.

We now had two choices: we were exposed, on a ridge, in a thunderstorm. Behind us was a 400-foot watery, muddy descent that only got worse as the rain went on. But it had some semblance of shelter. In front of us was wooded trail that would eventually take us off this rock. We didn’t even think – we just chose the second option and moved forward.

I ran with all of the strength I could as my shoes filled with water and squished liquid in and out of the mesh. Some areas of trail were dry because of their tree cover, but the fallen leaves that covered the trail absorbed the rain would keep my feet wet for some time.

The lightning provided an odd perspective. For a moment, however brief, we could see beyond our headlamps and into the beyond. We saw opposing bluffs, vast forests, and the farmfield. And we kept moving. We got to Ant Hill and walked down it gingerly. I was getting cold, mildly hypothermic – a condition brought on by many things, namely exhaustion, low fuel reserves, and the cold jacket against my clothes. I was dry, but not necessarily warm. And there was nothing to do about it but keep moving and get warm through motion. I would return to warmth on the road.

Back at and station 1/4, my wife had a freak-out whilst the rain and thunder rolled by. She had moved all of my gear under the awning of the Twin Cities Running Company’s RV. Carrie, the wife of one my pacers and an awesome person, showed up in the middle of the storm for the express purpose of relieving my wife if her crewing duties. From there, it rained off and on but never strong enough to kill the fire. They also never got hail.

When we hit aid station 4, my wife was ecstatic that we were there. Josh wanted to tell my wife how things were out there in the storm. He wanted to tell her about the mud, lightning, rain and the hail, and my wife would have none of it. That information was for me to know and to deal with and for her not to. It would make her too worried.

Carrie (yellow sleeve, off-frame) helps with desperately-needed foot repair at Aid 4, Loop 4.
Approximately 12:20 AM, Saturday morning.
It was in this section that I truly learned the value of a pacer. In those dark hours whilst rain and death poured down upon us, I let Josh take control of my race to the extent he could. He ran in front of me. He handled the terrain and picked the line. I simply stared at his feet and pushed on. I was not distracted by things external to the trail and nothing outside my headlamp beam mattered. I had total focus of the task at hand. 

Loop 5: Through the night

Kurt took up pacing duties for loop 5 when I came around to the start/finish at about 1 AM. At this point, I was now just over an hour off my 24-hour time goal and I just let that benchmark go. Right now, it was all about moving forward.

Loop 5 was more or less a blur, and my mind has very few specific memories of the loop.

Somewhere in section 1, I was lapped by the top runner and then Matt Aro a few minutes later. Joe Boler, his fiancé in tow, lapped me on an uphill in section 2 right before Walnut Coulee. I stopped at the picnic/shelter area in section 2 to remove my shoes and brush out the sand and grit in my sock, and then tip-toed my way down the windy single track toward aid 2. I was incredibly disappointed that the section took two hours, but hey, it was three or four AM.

I remember Kurt commenting on the bush-wacked single track trail in section 3 that did not exist prior to the race, but do not recall what he said. Just like the hill into aid 2, Kurt and I gingerly navigated Ant Hill and stopped at when it hit the downhill road before the flat, curvy road. I took two gels there in the morning light – it was now somewhere near 6 AM – and then got moving. 

The sun had long been up when Kurt and I came into Aid 4, loop 5 at 7:30 AM on Saturday.
And that is all I remember about Loop Five – a few select memories her and there, but little to nothing else.

Loop 6: Memory empty?

I started loop 6 about where I hoped to finish: 24 hours into the run. It was just after 8 AM and Jonni, Josh’s wife, was taking up pacing duties. Again, I related the whole story for her and my time goal: 30 hours. We had just under six hours to do 16.67 miles.

Jonni was floored by the view at the top of the first ascent. From here, you could see everything – the entire river bottoms and the camp from wence we came. Down the hill we went and into my second and last mistake of the day.

My face perfectly reflects how I felt at mile 87.
I rushed through aid station 1/4 my first time through on loop 6 - Jacci wouldn't let me sit down. Mistake number two, and one which would rear its head 90 minutes later while I slogged through section two.

What I remembered about course elements varied as the weather changed. On the sixth loop, it was bright, sunny, and 70-plus degrees out. Trees were sparkling green and the forest floor had a sheen to it. A stark contrast to the gloomy gray of the prior loops.

In the past loops, I had been able to talk my pacers through each element of the course. For example, the first section has a short climb up some single track, a descent down to the gravel, a long climb up the bluff, and a long, gradual descent (with two memorable downhills) down to the aid station. I told this to each of my pacers, and then they knew what to expect. It also helped me center my mind on what was to come. It focused my energy on the specific elements of each section so I could push through them in isolation instead of focusing too much on the big picture. It this case, it helped to see the trees through the forest.

But my memory failed me on the last loop somewhere between aid stations one and two. This section – the most difficult on the course, without question – is the longest, hilliest, and likely the rockiest. Again, it’s the hardest. When I explained the section to Jonie, I listed off the elements I remembered: we run to the volunteer turn-off for aid station 2, do some single track, run a long road, go up a climb, around a field, up a second, longer, harder climb and go down the peak on a lengthy, sketchy descent and some single track to the aid station.

As I listed the parts off, I knew we did some single track after we left the road to aid station 2. But I couldn’t remember how much, or how long we should be on it. It was just there, and we had to get to it. Similarly, I couldn’t remember much of the details between those listed elements. So, somewhere in section 2 – I say somewhere because I can’t remember and can’t exactly put it on the elevation profile – we were in the river bottom and stood at the base of a hill.

“I have no memory of this climb or the surroundings,” I said. I looked around again. To the left was the river and a brown river bottom with occasional green vegetation and old trees shooting out of the floor. The uphill was windy, covered with small lime-stone covered rocks, but had no distinct features that stirred up a memory. Nothing. Regardless, it was the last time I was going to go up this particular hill, Jonni said, and up we went.

Section 2 got progressively difficult as we went on. I drained my water bottle somewhere in there. The hills kept coming and as noted above, I couldn’t keep track of them. It was a delicate, touch-and-go tip-toe down the sketchy downhill from the picnic/shelter area to the aid station.

Aid 2 sat at Mile 91, and I was ready to collapse. It had taken me almost two hours to get here from 4.6 miles ago. But I refused to quit. I spent the next half hour – or so it seemed – eating everything in sight and second helpings of most items. Runners passed and I did not care. Scott Mark once again saw me when I was at my lowest, and then would later see me come back from the grave. 

It was like I was having a Catch-22 thought process. I was crazy, sitting here 91 miles into a 100.2 mile footrace. All I had to do was say that I was crazy and I could stop. But if I did, I had a rational thought process – self-preservation – and that meant I wasn’t crazy and must continue. My rational thought process, my self-preservation, was to eat. Because I knew I needed to eat, and continually asked for food, I was required to continue.

Some-30 minutes later I forced myself out of my chair and left for the third section. I also picked up another pacer, Eric. He provided Jonnie some company when I didn’t want to talk. I could also focus on their conversation.

The miles rolled by, albeit slowly. I was still running the flats, but Eric and Jonnie could walk faster than I could run.  The climbs caused my chest to found, my heart weary with fatigue but knowing that more was demanded of it. Descents were minefields on my weakened stumps known as legs. Getting down Ant Hill on Loop 6 was a task all in itself. Aid stations took longer as I tried to replenish the calories I had lost.

At the bottom of Ant Hill we hit The Road, the 1.2 mile circling and flat chunk of gravel pathway that lead back to aid 1/4. In each prior lap, I ran every step of this length and resolved that I would do the same on the next lap. Now was the test. Could I do it?

I set myself with the elements. The sun was by now beating down on us. We stood in the shade briefly before we set out. I stared ahead, looking down to a point 10 or so feet in front of my toes. Jonnie and Eric pulled away as their trots far outstripped my sorry pace. But I was running.

We stopped half-way and I drained my water bottle and a couple of salt tabs. A hobble, a step and we were off again. We rounded the corner and saw the bridge, the dreaded piece of concrete that permitted passage over the river.

Aid 4, Loop 6, Mile 97.5. Only 2.7 miles to go, and I've developed the 1,000 yard stare.
I pulled into aid 1/4 and left less than a minute later after a brief pep-talk. Time was off the essence, and I only had 2.7 miles to go.

The finish

I ran the road out of Aid 4 with as much gusto as my legs could must. Needless to say it wasn't much. The single track teased me, as the road we which would eventually bring us in ran parallel to us at the base of the hill the single track danced on. Soon I saw the flagging on the road and turned toward it. I could smell the barn, so to speak.

I hit the road at the bottom of the single track in the last section and felt almost like I did when I saw the Mystery Mountain campground at Sawtooth last year. Now I had a set distance to my goal, and I tried to extend my strides accordingly. Tried being the operative word. It was too early to tap that sort of reserve capital. Only so much of it exists, and I needed enough to get me from the gate to the finish shelter.

I slogged on the road, struggling like I had on for the 1.2 miles winding road from the bottom of Ant Hill to aid 1/4. I saw the road turn right, then left. Then the rail bed road sign. Another hundred or so yards and we were at the gate.

I rounded the final corner and saw the gate. Photos of the yellow gate at Barkley fluttered into my head. Two HAM radio operators sitting on ATVs asked for runner’s numbers, and they called them into the finish. I relayed mine and heard a cheer from the finish shelter, still a good quarter-mile away.

Jonnie and Eric fell away behind me, and we ran in a triangle toward the end. Cowbells rang, people cheered and I tried to give two thumbs up as I hobbled, every stronger, to my goal.

Do you know what it feels like to be alive?
My wife came into view and I pushed harder. I entered the chute, raised an arm in triumph and slowed to a walk for 17th place and 30:37:03 time.

I tried to sit down but went to my knees instead and curled up into a ball – child’s pose for the yoga folks. I rolled to one side, then to my back and stared up at the roof of the shelter. “Huh,” I thought, “I never noticed that they used to be a large wasp next up there” was about my most coherent thought. My wife came over, proud and smiling ready for a congratulatory kiss. John Storkamp put a buckle above me.

I gave everything I had, and now I have nothing left to give.
“Buckle,” he said as he delivered my trophy. “Chip,” he said as he lowered the token to my chest. I clutched them and had my photo op.

My preciouses.
And then I cried, overcome with something I couldn’t quite define at the moment. A handful of tears slowly streamed down the outside of each eye, rolling out of my salt-encrusted eye sockets. I pulled my cap over my eyes to wash them out, but it was soaked with sweat and salt as well.

I can’t exactly put my finger on what overwhelmed me in that moment. Perhaps it was the emotional release of the finish, a realization that all of the pain and suffering I had endured was done, my body was ready to given up as it had done exactly what I had prepared it for and demanded of it.

But I don’t think it was entirely that. I struggled through the last section as tumultuous thoughts crept into my brain. At aid 4, my wife attempted to motivate me.

“You’ve missed all of your time goals, now get to the finish in under 32 hours,” she said. I looked at my watch. It read about 29:50, or a little before 1 PM. I could get there in under 31, I told her.

“Well get there in under 31!”

And so I left, miserable. She didn’t intend her words to carry the meaning my addled brain put to them. She wanted to motivate me.

Instead I left aid station four on the way to the finish filled with doubt and disappointment. I missed all of my time goals? I knew it, and had known it long ago. I watched 24 hours slip away when loop four took five hours. I watched 28 hours go by when loop five took almost seven hours. It really hit me at mile 91 that I was coming in north of 30 hours.

What had I done? I wanted to apologize to her for wasting her time and mine, for incurring the race fee, cost of gas, gels, and a camping permit, and for doing all of that while not bringing home the goods with a sub-goal time finish or even what I then-considered a quality run. The numbers ran through my head – I spent just over three hours on my first loop, and I’m going to finish in ten times that number even though I only ran six times the distance. What gives?

It was likely these emotions that were released by the finish-line tears.  

Foot damage.

I did more damage to my feet at Zumbro than I have at any of my other ultras.

Sometime around mile 60 on loop four near the top of Ant Hill, I punted a rock. Not an uncommon occurrence. Pain shot through my right foot and registered in my brain. Again, typical. But this time the pain didn’t go away in five or ten minutes. It stayed.

I changed socks that loop, and when I pulled my right sock off I saw what I feared. The area behind my third toe was bruised. That meant two things: either the toe is broken, or I jammed the nail hard enough to bruise it. I was guessing the former, and barring physician examination and with the benefit of a warmth bath, some ice, and time post-race race, I now know I was correct.

The damage to my feet was more than I had ever experienced in my entire ultra racing career. My right ankle was swollen and likely sprained, and my right Achilles was swollen and pushing on the back of my shoe. I had a large callus and/or blister form under the ball of my both feet, and a blister (both unintentionally popped in-race) on the inside of the balls of each foot. Blisters formed under my right pinkie toe and my right big toe, and I’ll lose those toenaills. I jammed the first knuckle on both big toes, and they were swollen. My toes in general were swollen. And then there’s the bruised/broken toe on my right foot.

My feet were more or less OK under the circumstances until the overnight thunderstorm. My once-dry feet became macerated. Once wet, my shoes dried out but the bottoms of my feet didn’t. Sand got into the wrinkles and those grains of sand told me they were there on every step.

I changed shoes at Mile 80 and it likely saved my race. I went to Zumbro with two pairs of shoes, my now-beat up original pair of MT 10s and a brand new pair of the same. The original plan was to use the former for the entire race unless catastrophic failure arose which necessitated a change. The change likely saved my race because now I had a little more protection under my feet and a dry footbed upon which to run. When I changed shoes (and correspondingly, socks), my feet dried up, the majority of those wrinkles went away, and there was less sand in my socks because the shoes let less in. The shoes initially were tight and compressed my toes, but that discomfort went away almost instantly and likely did some good by proving some stability and support to my beat-up feet.

Damage assessment, day 0 status-post Zumbro 100.
The take away.

It is too easy to look at these races and one’s splits with disgust. Yeah, you are going to slow down. But it matters not that you slow down, but what you do when you slow down. In that I succeeded.

I never asked anyone to let me quit, nor did I ever vocalize that thought. I never permitted myself to flirt with the idea of DNF’ing, and even as I slowed down, the finish line was always in reach.

I made two mistakes during the race. First, not letting a runner go on loop 1 and as a result finishing the loop in second place, and second, not eating enough on Loop 5 and the start/finish of loop 6. I may have also spent too much time at aid stations, but it is hard to not stop in the later stages when one’s feet are in such poor condition.
A few housekeeping thoughts:

I feel bad for Matt Aro. Matt ran so well when I was with him and when he lapped me in the early morning hours. And he lost – taking second place – by only two seconds. Photo finishes should not occur at ultras.

Joe Boler finally put it together and crushed the CR for a third-place finish. Boler and I have run together a handful of times and raced together for a spell at the 2011 Afton Trail Run at Afton Alps. He’s plenty strong and got the Zumbro “ENDURE” tattooed on one of his upper arms for chris’ sakes. He fell ill just before Voyageur 50 last July and dropped at Sawtooth last year after a severe bout of vomiting. He put it together at Zumbro and cranked out a third-place, sub-course record time in his first completed 100 miler, finishing 16 minutes behind the top two. I hope he’s smoking a cigar whilst he reads this.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Zumbro 100: pre-race thoughts and musings

A couple of jottings before I head off to the Zumbro 100 this weekend. As always I go into a race with a few flexible goals in order of importance:

  • Finish
I'm going to stop right here with the recitation of my goals. No one's finish is guaranteed at a 100 miler, especially someone like myself with only one prior attempt and finish. That finish gave me a great boost in confidence and experience, and both must be harnessed appropriately to get me to the end of that sixth loop.And now some more goals:
  • Run even(ish) loops
  • Manage the overnight.
  • Sub-30
  • Sub-26
  • Sub-24
Now, a little about the the arbitrary time goals. With a looped course and frequent aid stations (five per 16.67-mile loop), it should be relatively easy to control my pace from the get-go. The course on paper is broken into five sections with an aid station separating each section. Each section, except the last, has a 300-400 foot ascent and descent in it in addition to the other ups and downs typical of at trail. Three miles in I'll be at aid 1, have one of those ups and downs in me, and just like I was at the 2010 Surf the Murph, I'll be able to make sure my timing is in check.

The race plan? Run 3:30-3:45 (or 4 hour) loops for as long as possible, hold on through the overnight, and run (not walk) as fast as I can through the last loop and a half or so.

The sub-30 hour time is in there because it is the gold-standard cut off for major races such as Western States and Leadville. Although a 30-hour 100 miler at Zumbro is a lot different in effort than a 30-hour Western States finish, I want to make that my bench mark.

As for the 26-hour finish, this is based on the finishing times of another runner who finished Zumbro a few years ago and ran a similar time to me at Sawtooth and Voyageur 50 last year. He also runs slower 50Ks and 50 milers than me (although our 50-mile times are closer when I run poorly). Hence, I believe that it is a realistic goal.

The sub-24 has a similar comment to it as the sub-30 hour does. I put this out there because I want to reach for it. I don't have enough experience to put this out there as a realistic time goal, but I do think it is possible if everything goes right. In essence it would probably take a 10:30 and 13:30 50-mile splits (3:30 for front, 4:30 or something close thereof) to put down, and I'm not sure I can do that without seeing and experiencing the terrain prior to the race. This is also the beauty of a loop course. I get to see the thing so many damn times that I can better demand myself to take the first one easy so as to absorb all the details I can to run the latter ones at the same pace or effort.

Also, my money is on Adam Schwartz-Lowe to run sub 21:00 and lower his CR.

Finally, all bets are off it it rains significantly.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

First Yasso 800s of the year: week of March 26 - April 1

Big week to conclude a big March. Never have I run so many miles over so many runs on so many days for a single month. This week I took it out a little light on the mid-week runs and went a little long on the long run (it's so damn hard to just run 15 miles for a long run). Also, Yasso 800s are my friend. Seriously.

Monday: 5.4; 0:55
Slow OOB to Mt. Kato. Emphasis on slow.

Tuesday AM: 7.6; 1:07
Big M route in Mankato with all the big hills: Main; Glenwood; Warren; and Stadium. Yum.

Tuesday PM: 7.1; 0:55
6x Yasso 800s @ 3:15/rep with 3:15 jogs in between and 15 warm up. First time doing Yasso 800s, which are 800 meter repeats done at 5K pace. Apparently they are supposed to predict your marathon time, i.e. if you can do 10x Yassos at 3:15, you can run a 3:15 marathon.

Wednesday: 5.4; 0:49
Slow trip to Mt. Kato again. A little sore from yesterday's Yassos.

Thursday:  5.4; 0:41
Right hamstring was really sore today from Tuesday's Yassos. Nevertheless, pushed it hard on run and came in at 7:43/mile (even though it felt like faster). Great run.

Friday: 4.4; 0:42
OOB to Gazebo by Mt. Kato. Morning pre-dawn run and still slow going.

Saturday: 23.5; 3:15
Epic long run with Russ and Cindra and Co. Started at 6 AM with Russ and took first 7 or so really easy, and then pushed with Cindra to Rapidan (and then some) and back. Pushed hard last two miles, ran a 7:00 for mile 22 and brought last half mile in easy after Cindra accelerated to a 6:15 mile.

I found realize later that after this run was done, I had run 80 miles in the past seven days. This is because I did my long run last week on Sunday, hence it was included in that calculation.

Found out later that I was a wee bit dehydrated during run when I had a moderate headache for most of day. That'll teach me.

Sunday: 5; 0:50
Trail run at Seven Mile Creek with the guys. A little twingy to start because of yesterday's run as I can feel that I lack 2011's end-of-season structural fitness. Calves/Achilles' were a little tight, but they softened up and we pushed hard during last section.

Totals: 63.725; 9:15:01
YTD: 590.6; 84:59:51

March Totals: 27 running days; 31 runs; 238.8 miles (personal best by 6.2 miles!); 34:42:57.

Up next: Power taper week one of two. I'm going to run 50 miles mostly easy this week and try and pick up 30-minute tempo run I dropped two weeks ago when I was sick. The following week I am running Zumbro and so I'll cut the in-week mileage down to about 20 to 25 with some mile accelerations early week. Also, my Q2 workout two weeks from now is a back-to-back long run - the first of the season - and that will get dropped in favor of the race.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

(Semi-) Thought experiment: how much could you run?

How many miles could you run in a week, or a month? Or average over a running season?

This is not merely a hypothetical question or a thought experiment. For example, Tony Krupicka ran over 1,000 miles in a five-week period during the lead up to the 2007 Leadville 100, averaging more than 200 miles per week over that time. And those five weeks were bookended by 133- and 152-mile week.

The world record – 408.04 miles in seven days – that’s a hypothetical question because it requires one to devote everything to running. The Krupicka question is less so because it does not necessarily (however likely) require one to leave everything else (mostly school, work, spouse and/or family for the rest of us) to accomplish it.

But the real issue is not “Could you run as many miles as Krupicka.” We’re not him, we don’t have the huge base of lifetime mileage (approx. 60,000 at end of 2011), and we shouldn't destroy ourselves replicating his training merely because it is him and we want to. Instead, the question is many miles could you put on in a week, or how many miles you could average over a season or seasons, all by taking the long view? Again, Krupicka was walking the razor’s edge of fitness during those five weeks in preparation – any more and he would have slipped into the realm of overtraining, overuse, fatigue and eventually, injury. Had he so slipped, it is doubtful he would have won the race.

So what is your max? Can you do it? What would it take to accomplish it?

(edit: this accidentally went live on 3/25/12 for a brief few minutes.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Being sick sucks: March 19-25

I hate being sick for so many reasons: the exhaustion, congestion, and nausea just to name a few. But the one thing I really can't stand about being sick is what it does to training. Things slow down or go full-stop. It hurts your lungs to run, and when you do your lung capacity/aerobic capacity just goes to the toilet. Mucus oozes out of your nose in thick ribbons and stick to everything. Farmers' blows - the standard runner's method for clearing one's nose - becomes dangerous instead of effective. And there is nothing you can do but pound fluids, orange juice, (homemade!) chicken soup, cold meds of choice, and sleep. It sucks being sick.

Monday: Goose egg.
Sick. Ribs aching.

Tuesday: 4.4; 0:40
Still sick, pulled in early (wanted to run eight) but had weird sideache on tip of right ribs. Not side stitch, but ouch.

Wednesday: Goose egg, no. 2
Still sick.

Thursday: 5.5; 1:00
Trail run at Seven Mile Creek after stressful, overcaffienated day. Wanted to run hard to beat the stress out of me. Didn't work, as my lung capacity would not accommodate such running for more than about 1.5 miles. 
Friday: 7; 1:02
Early AM run, and cold starting to work its way though system. Getting better, but still ill.

Sunday: 21.2; 2:59:00
Finally, a breakthrough of my head cold. Sinuses aren't clear, but the gunk coming out of them is clear instead of yellow. Great run through Sibley Park, on the Minnesota River Trail and the Red Jacket Trail. More on this run later.

Totals: 38.1 miles; 5:43:23
YTD: 526.9 miles; 75:44:50

Up next: I get better. And then we'll talk. Planned is 60 miles with Yasso 800s for speed work. We'll see if that goes off as planned.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How to track training progress: monitor rolling averages

For this year, I'm tracking four rolling statistics to monitor my training to make sure I'm training consistently and not overtraining by packing two weeks of training into a single a ten-day period.

Seven-day totals: I'm keeping track of how many miles and hours/minutes I've run in the past seven days.

Three Week rolling averages: This shows my average weekly mileage and time as calculated over the last three weeks.

The idea sprung from a portion of Relentless Forward Progress, which if you (want to) run ultras, is a must-read. Tracking this has shown a few things.

1. Zero days have a huge effect on the seven day totals.

Well duh. For every day that I don't run, the totals spike down. For everyday that I skip and then later run the following week, the totals spike up. For this reason, monitoring these numbers help me eliminate (or reduce) zero days because I care about these stats. Less zero days mean more consistency, and more consistency will lead to better race-day results. The same goes for days where I run more than my average daily run, i.e.when I did a 16 miler for a mid week run.

2. Three-week totals are much less volatile. 

Again, duh. When zero days are balanced out over three weeks (because hey, they come and go about once per week), their individual effect is mitigated.

3. What I ran seven or 21 days ago (rightly or wrongly) influences my daily mileage decisions.

I look at my training log (almost) every day. When I do, I tend to check the mileage I ran on this day of the week last week and three weeks ago. It is those numbers that will be dropped when I add in today's time. Runners have a tendency to think "more is better," and so long as it is part of a consistent training plan, more is better when achieved in small increments tends to work for most folks, including me. Thus, when I look back at what I did last week and three weeks ago, I want to run at least that mileage (or more), subject to this week's plan, so as to not diminish my rolling seven-day and three-week totals.

This is not terribly intelligent because it tends to prevent recovery days or recovery weeks from being entirely effective. But it is effective at getting me to run higher mileage weeks, especially going forward with this week and next when I am shooting for a weekly effort - 60 miles with two quality runs - that I have so rarely in the past achieved with any consistency.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Don't skimp the long run: March 12-18

Don't skimp the long run. You'll regret it if you do. And I did. And I regret it.

Monday: 7.9; 1:06
Easy run with the guys - up the Minnesota River Trail, down via Riverfront. Nice run.

Tuesday AM: 4.4; 0:43
Easy, slow, sluggish jog out to gazebo by Mt. Kato. Sometimes, early morning running is just awful this way.

Tuesday PM: 2.7; 0:24
Speed work: warm up, 16x 200M repeats at repetition pace (~0:37-0:39) with send offs every 65 seconds i.e. start each rep 65 seconds after the last one started. Hard workout, was seriously gasping toward the end and times suffered (slipping up toward 0:40, 0:41 or 0:42), but good early-season test of the legs. I just wish it didn't make me feel old and feeble.

Wednesday AM: 5.4; 0:49
Easy jog out to Mt. Kato, which is seriously starting to lose its snowpack. 

Wednesday PM: 4.6; 0:34:30
Gassed it up Main Street and down Glenwood at a just-less-than comfortably hard pace. Came down with 7:30/mile, and felt great. Once again, it is amazing how the body responds when the winter doldrums disappear for the year (crosses fingers).

Thursday: 4.4; 0:45
Same as Tuesday, except even more sluggish.

Friday: 7.6; 0:57
Great run, just like Wednesday PM, except with route extended to include Warren and Stadium hills. I call it the Big M run because the route looks like an M on Google maps. Again, pushed it a little bit and ran it just like Wednesday PM and once again, felt great...

Except for my feet. I made the decision to run this one sans socks, a la running Jesus (see FAQ, at right). Terrible decision - I came back with blisters in abnormal spots, like on top of the ball of my right foot (wtf?!) and my feet felt like I just raced, or more descriptively, been hit with a meat tenderizer. I drained the blisters and nursed my protesting feet.

Saturday:  12.7; 1:42
I cur my long run short, should have been 15 or 16 or so. Took first three or so miles easy, pushed miles five through nine, and easy to the finish. Average pace was around 8 minutes/mile, but actual pace was close to 9 minutes, then low 7:00s, then back toward 8 minutes/mile. Fun run, just short. Feet still sore, but better.

Sunday: 7.5; 1:05
Woke up with a nasty head cold and sore abs. Trail run at Seven Mile Creek Park and included all of the big hills - including the lollipop hills nos. 10 and 11. Solid run at comfortable pace and great first test run for May's Seven @ Seven trail race.

Miles: 57:075
Time: 8:07:14
Miles, YTD: 488.8
Time, YTD: 70:03:27
Miles on MT10s: 664 (and still going strong!)

Next week: Another round of 60 miles and the introduction of tempo runs. This week's Q2 is a 30-minute tempo run with two miles of warm up and cool down. I haven't set my pace yet for the run, but my guess is it will be somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00/mile. My schedule has the run set for eight miles, which would be 7:30/mile, so I'll easily exceed that. It all depends on what "comfortably hard" means this early in the season.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The recovery week that wasn't, and the end of 2012 base building: March 5-11

I had scheduled this week for a recovery week, 35 miles of easy running and nothing longer than about 10 or 12 miles. My will power left me, and I ran a little too long and did a few too many hills for Saturday's long run.

Monday: 4.6; 0:39
Easy up Main, down Glenwood. A good start to a recovery week.

Tuesday: 5.4; 0:42
Ran in shorts for the first time in March. It's amazing how liberating and speedy one feels when stripped of winter's tights, hats, and gloves.

Wednesday: 5.4; 0:48
Same route as Tuesday, just six minutes slower. Ugh.

Thursday: off
Other obligations called.

Friday: 6.0; 1:03
Slow and easy hill run with a co-worker. More of a time-on-feet run than one for pure mileage.

Saturday: 18.8; 2:42
Too long for what was planned (I should have done about half of this) but I have no regrets. Until Sunday.

Sunday AM: 5.2; 0:48
Test run at Seven Mile Creek. As anticipated the sun-bathed northern trails were clear and more or less dry. The southern trails were ice rinks. Lots of time spent for the miles and felt OK. Was a little tired initially, likely because I wasn't fully recovered from Saturday. Oh well.

Sunday PM: 5.4; 0:41
Went running because I was jumpy and a little stir-crazy with the nice weather we've been having. First run in Luna Sandals of 2012. Don't have the gait down yet, and end of run revealed a blister on a toe of each foot. Still, refreshing and quick run.

Miles: 50.8 on seven runs and six running days.
Time: 7:23:40 (~63 minutes/run average)
Miles, YTD: 431.7 (~ 7 miles/day average, more per running day)
Time, YTD: 61:56:13 (~52 minutes/day average, more per running day)

My knee pain which I experienced and wrote about last week is now gone. It disappeared sometime this week and was so little trouble that I didn't even notice that it was gone until it hit me. When it left, I don't even know - I'm just thankful that it is no more.

Up next: Big and important week next week, as this was the last week of my base building/injury prevention phase of my long-term training. Next week is week 1 of phase 2, the Early Quality phase. This phase is designed to build mechanics and introduce structured, faster reps and short threshold runs into the training. Taking the long view, these workouts help build a base from which to launch into harder, longer and/or faster training runs in phase 3.

With the coming of phase 2, I will start adding defined quality workouts to my week - particularly mid-week quality runs, called by Q2 runs (Q1 are weekend long runs). This week, I'll do one of my favorite early-season workouts, 200-meter repetitions (16 to 24 of them) with send offs every 60 to 65 seconds. Weekly mileage will be set at 60, as it will for the coming three weeks, then a rest week, and then Zumbro (which happens to fall on a week, conveniently and coincidentally, I planned a back-to-back long run).

Finally, registration opened on March 8 for the Afton Trail Races and the Superior Fall Races. I put my money down for Afton because that is guaranteed to fill up and I don't want to miss out. Look no further than Afton for a top-notch mid-season 50K. It's a race I have wanted to run in the past and have either been unable to (2009, 2010) or have run it at Afton Alps (2011). With no risk of a government shutdown, I'll be ready to hit it hard on July 7 for two loops around the park.

I'm holding off registering for Superior/Sawtooth 100 until later and will watch to make sure it doesn't fill up (cap is 200, there are 22 registered as of right now). Similarly, I haven't put my money down for Zumbro - but will - simply because registration is still open and there is almost (30 registered right now, cap of 200) no chance that it will sell out.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: New Balance MT10s

I needed to change shoes. My flats were destroyed by Sawtooth, and I needed to be able to run through winter. I also wanted to be rid of my flats' sole holes. When I started looking for shoes to replace my venerable Hyperspeed 3 and 4s (Asics is now up to 5's), I went looking for a lightweight, durable, minimalist trail shoe with minimal heel/toe drop that could easily substitute for a road shoe. In many ways, the Hyperspeeds were lightweight, minimal, and built for the road with their soft soles and openings in the sole for breathability. Trails destroyed them, and rightfully so. Of my criteria, durability was key - I was confident I could find a shoe with the remainder of the factors given the current push toward minimalism in trail shoes. I just couldn't afford to replace a pair of shoes with every or every other trail race simply because the rough terrain shredded the soles beyond recognition.

I've been running in the New Balance MT10s for about three-and-a-half months now. Over trails and roads, dirt and snow. And I like them. A lot. More than any other shoe I've ever worn. Here's why.

For starters, the MT10 is an all-business, no-frills, minimalist trail shoe.

For example - there is no insole or midsole. The shoe is essentially a slab of Vibram rubber sewed/adhered/etc. to a multilayered mesh upper. The upper is three layers - a thin, sturdy mesh; a large, checked lattice, and a durable, thick, sock-like inner (remember, these shoes were designed partially by Anton Krupicka, and he almost never wears socks (second item on FAQ, and I don' know how he does it)). The tongue and top of the toes is a flexible mesh outer sew into the sock-like inner.

The upper is also wrapped in rubber strips in two places - from the inside/outside of the midfoot arch to the top of the Achilles, and from the ball of the foot to the outside of the little toe. Cross-crossing this are a few strips of strap which run from the arch to the laces.

These straps gives so-called support to the foot or strength to the shoe itself. I find the forefoot strap slightly constrains my foot, which wants to naturally spread out when it lands. Instead, the strap squeezes the ball of my foot and the structures in line with it. This is more problematic because the shoes force you to land on your forefoot/midfoot. (If you need to learn how to do this, watch, learn and do.) Sizing thus becomes critical - I opted for the size I did simply because a 7.5 was too tight on the forefoot. This problem has gone away over time, but these shoes make you earn it.

The forefoot strap is a minimal issue. Once I get running, the constraint caused by it releases and I have no issues. But the constraint was noticeable when trying them on in the store or when walking around at home.

The laces are one area which leave something to be desired - the laces are held in place by alternating loops of strap and through a stiff fabric/rubber. The issue arises when it comes time to loosen, tighten, or tie the shoes. The laces do not flow freely through the loops and less so through the holes. This makes it difficult to evenly distribute the tightness of the laces. As a result, certain portions of the laces are tight, some may be loose, etc.

Soles, with approximately 200 miles on them. Check the noticeable wear pattern: from outside of heel, through arch, to underneath ball of foot. Nothing else has much wear.

The sole is Vibram rubber, a flexible, exceptionally durable rubber that is starting (finally) to appear on running footwear. Thank Five Fingers for that. The tread is minimal, especially when you compare it the fell-running creatures put out by iNov8. The sole has rows of circular tread with tri-star holes in between the circles.

The sole's flexibility causes it to wrap around items underfoot - including shooter-sized rocks and other items. I haven't done a long trail run with them, but I imagine that you'd still want to use good foot placement to avoid stepping on obstacles if possible.

The height of the shoes is minimal - 5 mm on the forefoot, 9 mm on the heel, or a 4 mm drop from heel to toe. New Balance provides a disclaimer, similar to what Vibram provides on their Five Fingers:
Caution: This product increases the strain on the foot, calf, and Achilles tendon. Overuse of this product or use of activities outside of running and walking may increase the risk of sustaining injury.

This product should be introduced slowly into a running exercise routine. New Balance recommends limiting initial use to 10% of overall running workouts and very gradually increasing training time and distance.

I can attest to the necessity of the warning. The lower heel drop puts more strain on my calves because they are not artificially shortened by a higher heel-toe drop.I have run in BFT's Luna Sandals and racing flats for several years now, and the MT10s caused me tight calves and Achilles the first few runs.They still do if I'm not warmed up when I crank up the first hill of the day.

Even with the criticisms above, the MT10s maybe the best shoes I've worn and are much loved at (their review). The conform to my feet, and force me to run with good form. Heel-pounding is not optional. It's midfoot or forefoot - nothing else. Running on pavement in this fashion creates a resounding slap, and the sound is one which I use to gauge how tuned-into a run I am - if I don't hear it and don't notice that I'm not hearing it, I'm in. If I can hear it, I'm not there yet.

The sole are also incredibly durable. The photo above shows the soles at 200 miles on them and the miniature dots of Vibram are only starting to wear. The remainder of the lugs are not even close to showing wear. The shoes are now closer to 555 miles, and the wear pattern is more pronounces, but soles are no where near to dead. I had my first failure with them this week when I found a hole in the mesh behind the strap on the inside of my foot behind the ball has formed. Thankfully, the durable lining is still intact and I'll run in them until total failure.

Although only racing will tell, the MT10s appear to fill my durability niche - they are just enough to shoe to provide adequate and durable protection and nothing more. I've never been one for overly-lugged traction, and if anything, my finish at Sawtooth in racing flats confirms that it is unnecessary (granted, I've never run a really muddy ultra where huge lugs were allegedly necessary, but that is another story).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Another solid week: Feb. 27-March 4

Weird week with some achiness in my right knee that may have started with the 22-miler last weekend. Long story short, I have a dull ache in my right quadriceps near my knee, likely my sartorius or vastus medialis or their related tendons.

Monday: off
Yeah, I know, but that 22-miler from last week really did a number on me.

Tuesday: 6.4; 0:55
Slow and easy hill run. 

Wednesday: 16.1; 2:20
Mid-week long run while wife was out of house, and done in a light snow to boot. Weird winter, no?

Thursday: 4.4; 0:40
Really light run out to Mt. Kato gazebo and back. Still not 100 percent OK from last Saturday. Quad at inside tip of right knee is a dull ache.

Friday: 5.4; 0:48
Again, and easy run out to Mt. Kato.

Saturday: 15.8; 2:20
This week's actual Q1 workout was a nice and easy pace and same route as last week, just not doubled and an added out-and-back at the end to get to 15 (and then add my 0.4 each way to the group's meeting location). Tweaked something on the back of my right knee (hamstring tendon?) (same side as quad issue) bounding down grass on Stoltzman. Stretched on run and it went away, applied ice, heating pad, and took some ibuprofen when I got home. Knee felt weak (may be a little loose?) when I got home. Better today with good night's sleep, but still.

Sunday: 8.5; 1:18
Mt. Kato lollipop, which happens to be 8.5 miles instead of 9.25...gotta go correct January and February stats.

Miles: 56.6 miles
Time: 8:20:54
Miles, YTD: 380.9
Time, YTD: 54:32:33

Next week is a rest week for me, 35 miles of slow, easy work with no anticipated long run (i.e. nothing longer than about 9 or 12). I'll take it as I monitor the situation with my right quad.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Go run 10-plus on a weekday, plus February totals

I don't remember the last time I ran double-digit miles in a single run during the week. Something about hitting 10 or more miles in one shot just seems like a self-imposed barrier. And it feels great to break it.

I put in 16.1 slow miles this evening in time-on-my-feet style. I carried a water bottle, ate a gel, and took it easy. I even considered walking a hill or two. But I didn't, and slowly slogged in the rainy mist known as this winter.

Normally, I wouldn't run such a distance mid-week. Those are saved for weekends when time has more freedom and there are less pressing obligations. But I did anyway, partially to put a punch on February.

February was a good month, by feel and numbers. Hills have felt particularly well, both the ups and down. I have routinely been able to the pace on ascents and descents in group and inadvertently pulled away from the group. I've also taken care to take my easy runs slowly so as to permit myself to recover from longer or harder workouts.

Miles: 216.26
Time: 30:54:07
Days run: 22 (~75 percent)
Runs: 24
Miles/run: ~9.0
Time/Run: ~77 minutes
Miles, YTD: 349.0
Time, YTD: 46:26:54
2012 season base: 576.6 miles (227.6 miles carried over from November and December 2011).

So what does this all mean? Lots of things. Most notably, it means that by the time I toe the line at Zumbro, I will have something between 800 and 850 miles of mileage on me, of which 650 or so is injury-preventing base. I'll more prepared than I have for any other early-season race I've ever done. As I noted last week, I rarely have hit 200 miles in a month, with my monthly max somewhere in the 235 range. As the numbers indicate, it will be more than easy to hit and exceed that going forward.

Going forward I still need to work on taking less inadvertent days of. I took a week off of running in February. Had I run those days, I would have likely gotten another 35 to 50 miles and four to seven hour in for the month and those numbers would look even better. It will be harder and harder to hit increasing mileages if I take take too many days off.

And like I do every Monday, tomorrow I will recommit myself to my upcoming training plan for March, which includes - gasp! - the beginning of speed work. There is one week of 50 miles (this week), a rest week of 35, then three weeks of 60 miles. Speed work begins (lightly) the first of these weeks. Long runs start to get dedicated distances (25 percent of weekly mileage e.g., although I will always feel pressured to run more than that, regardless of the percentage).

Monday, February 27, 2012

Solid week for early season: Feb. 20-26

I felt great all week and ended up running a wee bit too many miles. I managed to pull out a 22 miler on Saturday (long run should be between 12.5 and 15...) and felt good enough the next day for eight easy miles.

Monday: off
Just a really long day, and I needed a break after last week's 40 miles in three days. That hill run really took it to me.

Tuesday: 6.7; 0:58
Hill run with Main Street, Glenwood, Monks, and Stadium. May have tweaked my right quad by the push down Stadium. Or maybe it happened on Wednesday.

Wednesday AM: 5.4; 0:49
Really easy run to Mt. Kato and back. Legs a little sluggish after last night's push.

Wednesday PM: 6.7; 0:53
Same route as Tuesday, just five minutes faster and maybe tweaked my right quad (for first or second time this week). Had to make up for Monday's off day. Watched Unbreakable. T'was awesome. Review coming.

Thursday: 5.4; 0:50
Mt. Kato out-and-back.

Friday: 5.4;  0:48
Mt. Kato out-and-back.

Saturday: 21.7; 3:01:00
Long run with Multisport/Runner's Edge folks and pushed hard on ups and down. Helped get a runner preparing for Boston put down 22 miles of time on his feet. Awesome run.

Sunday: 8.2; 1:06:00
Looping easy run through MSU-Mankato/Hilltop area in 20-plus mph winds and 30-mph gusts. Wind died down during run but never let up.

Miles: 59.46 (six running days; seven runs)
Time: 8:26:33
Miles, YTD: 326.5
Time, YTD:  46:11:39

Up next is another 50-mile week, and it should go as smoothly as this one did. I'm easily going to clear 200 miles for the month and may get close to 220 - February's stats will go live Thursday. I'm seven weeks out from Zumbro and feeling great about running well there.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Too-predictable for a first 50-mile week: Feb. 13-19, 2012

As I predicted here, my first 50-mile week of the year could either go really well with consistent running each day. Or it could go not so well because I took a day or two off and ended up running the bulk of my miles on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. History would say that the latter is much more likely to occur. And it did for my first 50-mile week of the season.

Monday: 6.4; 49:00
Compact hill run: up Main, down Glenwood, up Monks, down Warren. Felt great every step of the way.

Tuesday and Wednesday: Off!
I saw this coming and couldn't do anything about it. The two days off put me in a big hole - I now needed to bang out 43.6 miles in four days. You do the math. 

Thursday: 4.6; 41:00
Back on the wagon with the Main/Glenwood loop.

Friday: 9.25; 1:13:00
Lollipop around Mt. Kato. Awesome night run with clear skies and bright stars.

Saturday: 15.1; 2:05:00
Easy run with Mankato Multisport/Runner's Edge. Asked to pace a friend for a marathon-pace run; that didn't turn out, so converted into an easy run with the focus being time on our feet. Easy, relaxing, all-around good for you.

Sunday: 15.0: 2:05
Best workout of the year: long hill run in North 'Kato with three loops up Lookout Drive and down Lee Boulevard. Legs were destroyed upon return, all to my satisfaction. Extra bonus: I ran in shorts and a single long-sleeve shirt. No gloves, no headband, no fleece hat - just a simple ballcap on my head. It's February in MN, damn it!

Week: 50.3; 6:52:52 (5 running days, 5 runs)
Month: 134.3; 19:12:29 (14 running days, 15 runs).
YTD: 267.1; 37:45:16 (34 running days, 36 runs).

A few notes about the totals. It's only the 20th of February, and I've already run more miles this month than I did in January 2012. All good signs. The next two weeks are 50-mile weeks, and with 10 days left in the month, I should be able to hit 200 miles for the month if I can hit my mileage next week and start the week of the 27th off on a good foot.

If I do hit 200 miles, that bodes very well for the rest of the year - especially because February is only 29 days long. If we were in March instead of February, that monthly total could be closer to about 215. My biggest month ever was 232.6 in April 2011 (running 23 days and 26 workouts that month), and there have been a little over a handful of months where I've exceeded 200 miles. If I'm already hitting 200 miles/mo this early in the season, more mileage is well within my grasp and all I need to do is put in the time and effort to reach those volume goals. And that increased volume will reap rewards on race day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Recovery weeks are awesome: Feb. 6-12, 2012

Recovery week was supposed to be last week. But I raced instead, and (conveniently) swapped last week for this. Looking back, it was a lot of easy running on generally the same route and minimal hills. That must change!

Monday: Off
Fighting a cold that started on Friday (pre-race). Felt like death after long work day.

Tuesday: 5; 47:00
Cold miraculously lifted. Life is clear again, but slow. OOB to Mt. Kato.

Wednesday: 6.5; 54:00
See original note -> OOB to just past Mt. Kato.

Thursday: Off
Wife was back from Cities for first time in several nights. Stayed home with her after I failed to run in the morning.

Friday: 5.4; 45:00
Same route as Tuesday.

Saturday: no running, but lots of walking
Worked at scout camp over weekend, walked maybe 8 miles? Maybe?

Sunday: 11.8; 1:30
Awesome long (Q1) run for the week, especially post-scout camp headache. Loop around Sibley and Mt. Kato (trifecta!). Took it at a quicker pace because sweat plus wind means evaporative cooling at an excessive rate - and one I didn't appreciate. 

Totals: 29.05 (goal was 30); 3:56:40
YTD: 216.8; 30:51:24

Up next: A real week, 50 miles, and still in phase 1 base building. How this week goes may well affect the remainder of my season. It is the first 50-mile training i.e. non-race week, and I generally start to slack off a little bit when the mileage goes about 50 mpw. This ends up with massive runs on Friday/Saturday/Sunday to hit the goal mileage and little work on the front end. The plan this week is to run about an hour at a time every day except Saturday or Sunday so as to get off on a good foot - so to say - on Monday.

The above is also part of my mental strategy for the season. Every week, I am rededicating my self to two of my 2012 goals: finish Sawtooth (well); and run what I planned to run for that week. Each week, without thinking about what is beyond that. I do that, by keeping rolling seven-day and three-week averages (see 2012 training plan, at right), but not to any high degree of importance. This week, with 50 mpw and a 12.5-mile-plus long run, I need to bang out between 6.5 and just over 7.5 miles/day, depending on how many days I run (six vs. seven, and hopefully not five - the last of which puts those non-long day closer to nine miles/day).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Race Recap: JD Memorial 50K

I signed up for the John Dick Memorial 50K to ease my nerves. A runner friend of mine commented that I was really going to run a 100 miler as my first race of the season, and it sent a signal of doubt into my thighs. In past years, I have always built up to a long, peak race. This year, I would be hitting it hard, 100 miles right from the outset. So I needed something between six and eight weeks out. In swooped the icy, muddy, and snowy JD 50K, held on a snowmobile trail in the Kettle Moraine area of Wisconsin.

The course layout required us to run five loops of essentially and out-and-back course that had a lollipop on one end. The start/finish was on a spur trail that branched off from the middle of this trail. Once we hit the trail, we did the out-and-back first, then the lollipop, and then re-started the whole process. The out-and-back was about four miles, the lollipop was about two.

I took the first loop easy enough. The race director, Robert Wehner, recommended people wear screw shoes or Ice Spikes because the trails were icy. Now, I wear New Balance MT10s and those soles aren’t thick enough to put a sheet metal screw into it without puncturing my foot. And I didn’t get around to asking one of my runner friends if they had some Yaktrax or Kahtoola microspikes for me. So I ran bare, so to say.

Ultramarathon starts are (almost) always informal.

I was running with a pack of six runners throughout the first loop, and we there were seven runners ahead of us. Sometimes I would lead, sometimes hang back, but never in the middle. There were two aid stations on the course. The first was at the turnaround of the out-and-back section. It was unmanned and had a tub of goodies and two water coolers, one with water and the other filled with HEED. The second was at the end of the lollipop on the other end of the course. This aid station was manned and full of a smorgasboard of food. Everything from typical ultra fare to Little Debbies (why you would want one or could stomach one while running is beyond me) was present, and they also had stove going with ramen soup in pot.

When we came into the manned aid station, I hit it and turned around right away. In doing so, I dropped my five companions instantly and put on a several second lead. One runner caught up to me in short order, an man in all black who wore a blaze-orange stocking cap with “Cougars” on the back and “RRR” on the rear, both written in permanent black marker. He would be my companion for the next ten or so miles.

He and I pulled through the first loop in 51:20, a sub-4:25 pace. I felt solid, was running well, and felt no qualms about the pace. I thought on a great day I could run 4:30, and set a goal of 5:00 hours. 5:30 was also acceptable, but only if conditions dictated (see also 2012 Afton 50K at Afton Alps instead of Afton State Park). We were right on track to where I wanted to be. All I had to do was hold on.

He and I battled together without other companions until about one third of the way through the third lap. We came through the second lap in 48:53, a respectable almost-even pace from the first lap (maybe a little negative) and pushed each other on. On the third lap, my legs started to tire, and the race director caught up to us at about just after the turn around on the out-and-back. He ran past us, and got in front of the two of us just prior to the large, shallow hill on the that section. Now heading back away from the aid station, the hill sloped up. I walked, they ran, and I  was dropped.

I ran through the remainder of the third lap myself, and I started to flounder. When I came through I told my wife that things were starting to hurt. My hamstrings occassionally twinged and my legs started to feel heavy. I knew I had a blister or two on my right outside big toe, and the top of my the toes on my right shoe had a blood stain. I didn’t feel anything so I chose not to worry (or tell her about it).

By the time I was done with the third lap, the sun had come out in earnest and was pounding the open areas. Snow-covered trails turned to mush, dirt turned to mud, and ice became covered with shoe-tracked sand. I can through in 53:50. A little slow down, but respectable given how I was running. I was likely in 10th place at this time.

The fourth lap did a number to me, and I had to remind myself to dig deep. I started walking more of the inclines, and started to take short 45-second to one-minute walking breaks to gather myself. Up until the first aid station on the fourth lap, I had consumed four gels. I had been running for around 3.5 hours and was starting to wane. My stomach felt fine, but I didn’t have any zip in my steps. When I got to that first aid station on lap four, I stopped there for the first time in the race. I had been running right around through it. I slammed two glasses of Coke, belched out the carbonation, and trucked along. My step picked up, and I pushed as hard as I could.

The second aid station on that lap was a similar story. Not only did I put down two more glasses of coke, but I grabbed a fistful of potato chips, too. The salt tasted good, a little too good. That meant one thing: my electrolytes were low, and I needed to replenish them ASAP. I grabbed two more handfuls of chips and got out of there.

I felt instantly better as I left the second aid station on lap four. I was right: my electrolytes were low, and it was affecting my running. I ran on, not caring if I stepped in a mud puddle or four. I came through the fourth lap in 1:06:17 - a noticeable drop from the third lap, maybe of two minutes per mile. But I came through at just under 3:40 for approximately 40K. It was about a 3:50 trail marathon pace, and I was all-but guaranteed to hit my goal of running sub-5 hours. There was no way - absent severe mental or physical breakdown - that I was running an 80-plus minute final lap.

To make matters worse, I had watched the eventual winner drop the pack and pass me going in the opposite direction on every loop. Each loop, he gained more and more. First he had a third of a lap on us, then half, and then on my way to the the start of the fifth loop, he passed me coming up from behind. I was in 15th or so place and was lapped. I had been lapping the slower members of the field, but he lapped me. Just an incredible performance.

The fifth loop was my best loop of them all, at least for feel and racing tenacity. Like the third and fourth loops, I took my a walking break or two, but I ran harder (not necessarily faster) than I did on any loop but my first. Two cokes at the first aid station, two more and some chips at the second, and I hard run through the snow and mud throughout. I pulled off the snowmobile trail and onto the pavement and looked back. The person behind me was starting their fifth loop, and I blasted uphill on the road to the start/finish.

Running uphill - even at a gradual incline - late in an ultra is a task in and of itself. Seemingly innocuous molehills become large chores on tired legs. This was my case with this last hill. But with nothing left to put on the course, I ran as hard as I could - likely around a 7:30 mile pace around the hook and into the warming building. Time recorded - 4:45:00 by my watch - and fast enough that my wife wasn't out to cheer me in because she didn't expect me for another 10 minutes and a PR for the distance by 34 minutes.

In the end, I made it though without falling, although I did have my close calls. I also slipped around plenty - especially on the first two laps - costing precious energy each time. However, after the first loop or two, I figured out where I could and couldn’t step and where I should and shouldn’t put run.

The takewaway

I went into this race as a tune-up for the Zumbro 100, now just over eight weeks away. My time and the feel of the race settled any doubts I had about finishing Zumbro,

I also felt strong on the hills, even the ones I power-walked up. I had a zip in my step up the quick inclines, and powered down the descents on every lap. I'll take this as early-season confirmation of running up and down hills on my easy runs.

Finally, as always, I need to work on pacing. Laps one through three went well, and a 4:30 finish was definitely in reach had I not slowed down by two minutes/mile on those last two laps. This was partially an electrolyte deficiency - a rookie mistake, essentially - and partially mental. I'm going to set a 4:30 time goal at Afton and work like crazy to hit it.
Lap 1: 51:20
Lap 2: 48:53
Lap 3: 53:50
Lap 4: 1:06:17
Lap 5: 1:04:39
Finish: 4:45:01 (unofficial)
Recovery time, with a head cold: <72 hours.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Big week, big PR!

A big week, and big PR. Finally, I run a 50K on something other than crazy-hilly single track and PR by a huge amount - 34 minutes!

Monday: 9.25; 1:13
Out and around Mount 'Kato in the early AM. This served as my long run for the week.

Tuesday: 4.6; 31:55
A little jumpy with this one, functionally a Q2 workout, only 36 hours after Monday's Q1 workout. I shouldn't be running this yet, but I had one of those days where everything felt like it clicked. So I pushed it - here's the result, a sub-7 minute/mile pace with a wicked climb up Main Street. Also, mailed my registration for Saturday's race.

Wednesday: 3.5; 30:00
Slow and sluggish trot around local park. Nothing spectacular, but I got outside.

Thursday AM: 5.4; 48:00
Out-and-back, easy, to Mount Kato.

Thursday PM: 6.4; 54:00
Out-and-back, easy, to Mount Kato and then some.

Friday: 4.4; 42:00
Repeat of Wednesday, just a little longer and a little slower. Think of it as a pre-race set up. Extra bonus: I came down with a head cold in the AM, 24-hours before Saturday's race.

Saturday: 31; 4:45:00
John Dick Memorial 50K. Race report coming soon. Needless to say, huge PR by 34 minutes and I'm pleased with the whole icy, snowy, muddy mess. Headcold (and then headache) cometh in earnest.

Sunday: 4.3; 42:00
Recovery run. Ouch. Headcold continueth.

Totals: 68.8; 10:07:22.
YTD: 187.7; 26:54:44.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

If your shoes are dirty, run 10 miles in the snow: week of Jan. 23-30, 2012

Lots of good running this week, just low on volume - which was more than made up for by walking around all of Saturday and Sunday morning with a group of scouts.

Monday: 5.7; 50:00
Lunges, squats, rev. crunches, 4x strides, 100 pushups Week 1, Day 1.

Tuesday: off

Wednesday: 9.25; 1:13:00
Trip around Mount Kato via Indian Lake Road. Counted as long run for the week. Lunges, squats, rev. crunches, 4x strides, 100 pushups Week 1, Day 2.

Thursday: 4.6; 43:00
Up Main, down Glenwood. Slow and sluggish, but got the job done in the early AM hours.

Friday: 6.25; 57:00
Run through the snow-covered trails of scout camp, doing two loops on long ski trail. Mileage conservatively guestimated based on effort. Shoes came back clean.

Saturday: 3.125; 29:00
One loop of course run the night before. Lunges, squats, rev. crunches, 4x strides, 100 pushups Week 1, Day 3. Extra bonus: walking around with scouts the entire day.

Sunday: Off
Lazy - should have gotten in five or six. 

Totals: 28.9; 4:12:00; lots of walking.
YTD: ~119; 16:47:00. (That will be closer to 140 and 20:00:00 by the end of January).

Overall I'm pleased with the week. Mileage was a little low, but I started the strength plan in earnest and made it every day when I had to. Up next is a planned 30-mile rest week which will turn into something around 60 miles with the John Dick Memorial 50K planned for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012. More to come on that, including a race report next week.